Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish


I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun. Don’t Read more

Everton 3 - 0 Arsenal: Is it over?


Is it over? Not the title race. That’s been over for a while. Not the “race for fourth”, either. That’s Read more

Arsenal must find a way to replace Theo Walcott’s goals


It’s rare that a piece of Arsenal news shocks me. We live, lest we forget, in a world where Read more

Video: Arsene Wenger sings Cee-Lo Green hit to Robin van Persie


Alright gang. I've done another one of my silly songs. This time, my slightly strange brain has got Arsene Read more

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea: Jack Wilshere, Perfect 10

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, FA Cup, Match Reports | 704 Guns

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A few games in to Jack Wilshere’s comeback, I scoffed at those who had suggested it would take him a little time to get back to his best. His first few all-action displays suggested to me that Wilshere had hit the ground running, and was immediately playing at something close to full capacity.

How wrong I was; how right they were. Jack was merely finding his feet. In the last two matches, Wilshere’s development has accelerated dramatically.

This isn’t the Wilshere we remember. This one’s better.

This Jack Wilshere is armoured with months of gym work and a fierce desire to make up for lost time. He is physically and mentally stronger for the ordeal he has suffered, and it shows. Against City his courage and resilience saw him emerge as the heartbeat of this Arsenal side. Against Swansea, he took on a different kind of responsibility.

Ever since his return, Jack has worn the hallowed number 10 on his back. This, however, was the first time since his injury we’ve seen him play as a number 10. The position fits him as well as the shirt. Freed of defensive responsibility, he was a constant menace to the Swansea defence, and it was no surprise when his twenty-yard strike proved the difference.

I have no doubt that Wilshere will follow Cesc Fabregas in moving forward from a deeper role to play behind the striker. It may not be immediate, but it will be soon. In his mid-teens, Jack made waves in youth football as a scorer and creator of goals from midfield. The tools he has learnt playing deep will make him a better all-round player, but ultimately his future lines in the attacking third.

Deploying Jack there also seems to give Arsenal better balance. Behind him, the platform of Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin looked relatively secure, and moving Santi Cazorla in to the front three did little to diminish the Spaniard’s influence, and added fluency and creativity to our forward play. Coquelin did particularly well on the night – I was heartened to see the team’s least experienced player cajoling his team-mates back in to position as we hold on to our 1-0 lead.

This was a well deserved victory, which would have been much more comfortable but for some poor finishing from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Despite the likelihood of the former signing a new deal, and my growing affection for the latter, my one hope for this transfer window is that we bring in a goalscorer. With each passing day, however, that hope diminishes.

This is no time for negativity, though. Arsenal have maneuvered past a difficult draw with Swansea and are still in the cup. What’s more, I saw enough tonight at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge to think that we might be able to give an imploding Chelsea side a very good game on Sunday.

If we do, you can bet that Jack Wilshere will be at the heart of it. Thomas Vermaelen is Arsenal’s captain in name alone. That armband, just like that number 10 role, is Jack’s destiny.

My bet is on him to fulfill the role permanently one day. Are you interested in doing some betting on an upcoming Premier League fixture? Make sure you head over to www.bwin.com and check out their fantastic odds!

Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City: Do your job, Arsene

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 682 Guns

Laurent Koscielny wrestles Edin Dzeko to the ground

Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

All the talk before this game was of the exorbitant prices fans were asked to pay to watch the match.  It felt particularly expensive for Arsenal fans when Laurent Koscielny’s red card effectively ended the contest after 10 minutes.

In fairness, it might not have been much of a game regardless.  In his post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger admitted:

“Overall we started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and we allowed them to dictate from the start. We paid very early from it.”

It’s a relief to see him be honest and avoid laying all the blame at the door of referee Mike Dean, who I believe got most of the major decisions right.  From kick-off City were more purposeful, more organised, and more commanding.  They looked like the home team.  What happened in the tenth minute simply compounded problems that were already alarmingly evident.

I think Laurent Koscielny is probably Arsenal’s best all-round defender, and yet I wouldn’t have him in the first-team.  It’s a paradoxical statement about a bewildering player.  For all his excellence, his time in English football has been littered with some major errors, and his decision to bear-hug Edin Dzeko to the ground inside the penalty box was inexplicable and yet entirely in character.

Was it a foul?  Certainly.  Did it deny a goalscoring opportunity?  Yes.  Although Tevez ultimately reached the ball, it was only Koscielny’s intervention that prevented Dzeko getting there.  If pulling someone’s shirt as the last man forty yards from goal warrants a red card, then rugby tackling someone to the ground six yards out should definitely do the same.

Some fans have suggested that Dean’s decision “ruined the game”.  I didn’t hear them making the same point when Emmanuel Adebayor was dismissed in the 17th minute of the North London Derby.  We know Dean enjoys the limelight and will gleefully make a big call given the opportunity, but it took Koscielny to be stupid enough to give him that chance.  For what it’s worth, I thought Dean did a decent job with a difficult match, and made the correct call with Vincent Kompany’s late dismissal too.

Back to the penalty.  I didn’t fancy Dzeko to score the spot-kick at all, and indeed Wojciech Szczesny made the first of several important saves to deny the Bosnian.  Without another impressive performance from the Pole, the score could have become humiliating.

The fact we survived the penalty with our clean sheet intact made the way we gave away the two goals all the more infuriating.  First the team failed to switch on as City took a quick free-kick and released James Milner to thump brilliantly past Szczesny; then Kieran Gibbs was caught in possession and duly punished as Zabaleta crossed for Dzeko to tap in via another Szczesny save.

City were in complete control of the game, and though the second half introduction of Olivier Giroud gave them the occasional scare, they never looked less than comfortable.  The fact they managed nine shots on target as compared with Arsenal’s four tells you that they looked more like adding to their tally than conceding.

I was relieved that the scoreline wasn’t more embarrassing.  Arsenal have difficult fixtures to come in this month, and a home humiliation would have been hugely unhelpful.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger was unusually unguarded about the failings in his team:

“We need to be a bit more confident in this kind of game. We want to do so well that we are a bit up tight. I’m not angry, it’s frustration that you do not see from the start what this team is capable of.”

We are not, he makes clear, seeing the best of the players we have.  Questions must therefore be asked of the man being tasked with coaching, organising and motivating them: Arsene himself.

I’d also query today’s team selection.  The manager seems to harbour a desire to reunite Koscielny and Vermaelen for the big games.  He tried it against Chelsea back in September, and we combusted.  Today produced a similar result.

Theo Walcott got the nod in the central striker’s role, and although it was something of a thankless task today, was entirely unconvincing.  Amid rumours of an imminent new deal, a cynic might suggest his performance was that of a man who has now got the golden handshake he’s been after.

I was more immediately concerned by his failure to provide any kind of outlet for our embattled midfield.  He never came and showed for the ball in to feet, and was dominated by Kompany and Nastasic throughout.  Whenever we created space wide, we neglected to cross as Walcott doesn’t have the capacity to provide any kind of aerial threat.

It’s worth noting that of Walcott’s 14 goals this season, only five have come while playing through the middle.  While I’m not convinced that Olivier Giroud is good enough for a side with top four ‘ambitions’, he remains the best centre-forward we have, and should be starting games.

The injury to Mikel Arteta is obviously a blow, but throwing the very rusty Abou Diaby back in after three months out was a strange decision.  Leaving him on at the expense of Oxlade-Chamberlain after the sending off was arguably stranger.  A red card to a centre-back robs you of one substitution; leaving a barely fit Diaby on effectively robs you of another.

Perhaps Arsene wasn’t fussed, as he knew that Olivier Giroud was the only attacker available on the bench.  The unexplained omission of Arshavin and Rosicky meant that of the six outfield substitutes available, three were defenders and one a defensive midfielder.  The absence of player capable of coming on and changing the game was palpable, which makes Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to enter the transfer market all the more infuriating.

Asked if Arteta’s injury would prompt him to move to reinforce the squad, he replied:

“To find players of a calibre of Arteta, available in January, I wish you good luck.”

Cry me a river, Arsene.  You had the summer, but you ‘kept your powder dry’.  Since then you’ve had four months to identify players to improve the squad.  You’ve now had a full two weeks in which you could have actually bought someone; a period in which we’ve failed to qualify in the cup and dropped five league points.  Stop moaning and do your job.

The real positive for Arsenal was the performance of Jack Wilshere.  Faced with adversity, he was fearless, bold, and brave.  City did their best to kick him out of the game, and he responded time after time with driving runs that represented our only real hope of getting back in to the game.

In a match in which the talented but timid Cazorla was anonymous, Wilshere emerged as our true playmaker.  Our true leader.  The class and courage he displayed was reminiscent of one Cesc Fabregas – a player who ultimately left Arsenal because the club failed to build a side befitting of such a unique talent.

If Arsenal and Arsene continue to neglect their responsibility to improve the squad, Jack will go the way of Cesc.  And Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy and Song.  Jack’s enthusiasm and love for the club was entirely evident against City, but no player is immune from disillusionment.  Years of stagnation and decline will wear that affinity thin.  We’ve seen it before.  Let’s not let history repeat itself.

Transfer Update: Arsene’s Inertia Could Cost Arsenal Dear

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 645 Guns

I don’t know why this blog is called a Transfer Update.  There are no transfers to update you on, really.  I’m writing it in the immediate aftermath of reading some truly baffling quotes from Arsene Wenger.

I’ve studied Arsene for more than ten years.  In the last few seasons, I’ve watched every one of his press conferences.  I have grown accustomed to his verbal ticks and repetitious rhetoric.  In recent months, amidst all the familiar traits – the wit, the charm, the searing analytical brain – I have seen a new trait creepy ominously in: doubt.

It used to be that when Arsene spoke about transfers in the press, you could write it off as bluff.  Bluff, however, is grounded in logic. Arsene’s recent words are those of a man who can’t quite make up his mind.

This very morning, he said:

“In England you are always under pressure to buy. We are still working in the transfer market but we only want exceptional players … Our squad is quite complete already.”

This comes just over a week after he told the media:

“I will be active, yes. Will I be concrete? I hope so. We are looking everywhere.”

The conviction is gone.  It’s a trend that’s not unfamiliar to those who’ve had to deal with Arsene Wenger in recent months.  Ask any agent who has spoken to him about a potential signing: his reaction is never more than lukewarm, never without caveats.  Despite the fact his Arsenal squad continues to to convince, the man solely responsible for recruitment is not sufficiently convinced by anyone outside it.

Meanwhile, through our gloomy transfer window, we watch good players come and go.  We know Arsene admired Demba Ba, but he decided not to move for him based on a fairly spurious belief that he was too similar to the significantly less predatory Olivier Giroud.  Arsenal scouts have watched Wilfried Zaha for months, but it seems the player will be allowed to join Manchester United uncontested.

The consequence for Arsenal is crippling inactivity.  Arsene sets a bar of “super super quality”, and sets about looking for a player to ease his own apprehensions about entering the market.  Such a player, of course, does not exist.  Arsenal procede to do nothing.  Perhaps, in a final scramble and with need for sheer numbers, they sign a player out of panic who is not good enough.  They then spend the next few transfer windows struggling to offload this player from their wage bill, hampering their financial potential, and so the cycle continues.

If you know who you want, January is not a complicated time to do a deal: Liverpool went and signed up Daniel Sturridge before the window was even open.  The club are not prohibited from looking for potential signings in the months between August and December.  If they haven’t found anyone of the requisite “quality” by now, I have no faith that they will do so in the coming few weeks.

Forgive me if this sounds a little over the top.  I am merely struggling to understand how an unconvincing draw with Swansea has done so much to erase Arsene’s belief that this team needs reinforcement.  Our rivals will doubtless continue to improve around us, so we ought to push on and do the same.  If we don’t, there is a very real risk that we will fail to achieve our basic goal for the season: Champions League qualification.

If our squad is “complete”, then why are Arsenal sixth?

Swansea 2-2 Arsenal: Podolski shows the value of having quality in reserve

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, FA Cup | 330 Guns

Swansea 2 – 2 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I think arseblog called it right when he said this was a game we could have lost and yet should have won.  For a long time, it looked as if this was going to be one of those games for Arsenal: we had plenty of possession without doing very much with it.  Swansea, however, were typically efficient, and looked a threat every time their passing game developed in to a full-blown attack.

The first half was a tepid, turgid affair.  This Arsenal team seem to have an ‘all or nothing’ approach to fluidity; when they fail to click, it’s like milking a rottweiler: painful for everyone involved and ugly on the eye.  The game only exploded in to life with the introduction of Michu.

The Spaniard came on as a 56th minute substitute.  By the 58th minute, he’d scored.  He looped the ball over Per Mertesacker, sprinted past the off-form German, and held off Laurent Koscielny to score his fifteenth goal of the campaign.  Just as at the Emirates a month or so ago, I was hugely impressed by his movement, strength, and technical ability.  Come the start of next season, he ought to be playing for a Champions League club.

The goal came against the run of play.  Arsenal had begun the second half with considerably more purpose, with the tireless forward momentum of Kieran Gibbs a key feature.  It was a substitute of our own who would help bring just reward: Lukas Podolski.  He himself had been on for less than ten minutes when he turned to volley home after Swansea failed to clear a Theo Walcott corner.

It was a stunning finish: for all the talk about Theo Walcott, the German is the most clinical man in front of goal at the club.  Some supporters seem frustrated by his habit of disappearing in certain games, but I’d suggest that pattern is typical of a forward in a side struggling for fluency.  When we’re off our game, his movement goes unnoticed and he can be very quiet.  When we’re in the groove, however, there is no player I trust more to make the most of opportunities to score or create.  His goal yesterday takes his tally for the season to 10; impressive for a player at the halfway point of his first season in English football.

Having grabbed the equaliser, Arsenal had all the momentum, and there was a touch of Podolski about their second goal too.  Kieran Gibbs played a one-two with Olivier Giroud to meet his clipped pass with a sumptuous volley that had more than a hint of Poldi’s against Montpellier about it.  It was just reward for a storming performance from Gibbs.  Whilst I appreciate he is prone to the occasional defensive lapse, his energy, stamina and positive running from left-back make up for it on balance, and I was delighted for him to get a deserved goal.

Having taken the lead with just seven minutes to play, most teams would expect to hold on for the victory.  N.B. : ‘most teams’.  Arsenal had other ideas, and their static zonal marking came a-cropper again when Danny Graham was left free at the far post to thump in a late equaliser from a corner.  Mikel Arteta will be particularly disappointed with his failure to close the striker down.

All in all, I’m content with the draw.  It meant Arsenal went in to the hat for the fourth round, when for 83 minutes that looked dubious at best.  The impact of Podolski from the bench was a lesson in the value of having quality in reserve.  The problem Arsenal have going forward is that Podolski was only on the bench to save his tired legs.  Ordinarily, they wouldn’t be able to turn to someone of that calibre to bail them out.

You can see where I’m going with this: with loan departures for Marouane Chamakh and Johan Djourou now confirmed, it’s time for Arsenal to take advantage of that space in the squad and bring in some new players.  Arsene repeated his post-match mantra of being on the lookout for “one or two” additions; I hope he’s bluffing and that those targets were identified long ago.  A month is not as long as he seems to think.

Arsenal now face a replay with Swansea on the 16th of January.  The winner of that game will travel to Brighton in the FA Cup fourth round.  Along with the rescheduled game with West Ham, it means Arsenal have a pretty hectic month ahead, and any reinforcements will thus be all the more welcome.

Arsene might be worried about 8 games in four weeks, but for supporters it means a veritable feast of football.  Bring it on.

Transfer Update: Don’t Hurry Back, Chamakh

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 599 Guns

Arsenal have completed their first official transfer of this window, and unsurprisingly it’s a transfer out rather than in: Marouane Chamakh has joined West Ham United on a six month loan.  Upon sealing the deal, he said:

“We played only one striker at Arsenal, so I didn’t play a lot, so I hope to do so more with West Ham. I think this will be a very important move for me and I don’t want to waste any more time. I want to contribute immediately.”

It’s a difficult stance to argue with, and the polar opposite of the attitude of Andrey Arshavin, who has turned down the chance to move to Reading to sit in the doldrums at Arsenal.  Chamakh is 28 now, and not played a single minute in the Premier League this season.  He’s spent most of his time on the training ground putting out the football bibs.  If he is to have any chance of resurrecting his career, it’s clear he needed to move on.

The fact his career is in need of resurrection at all is what intrigues me.  It may be hard to recall now, but when Chamakh first joined Arsenal he looked like the real deal.  For a long time Arsenal had been told they needed a physical, aerially dominant centre-forward, and Chamakh looked to be that man.  He scored an impressive 10 goals in his first 17 starts.  At the time, Robin van Persie was yet to explode in to the player he is now, and was suffering one of his customary injuries.  I will admit that during this period I  may have stated a case for RVP to be sold off now we had a more reliable forward in Chamakh.  Shows what I know.

For everything was soon to change.  After a goal against Aston Villa in November, Chamakh had to wait until March 3rd for his next in Arsenal colours.  Robin van Persie returned from injury to have his extraordinary calendar year of 2011, and as his star shone brighter and brighter, Chamakh’s waned.  He never regained his place in the side, his manager’s faith, or his confidence in front of goal.

That’s why he’s going on loan, rather than making a permanent move.  No club would risk a fee on a player who has suffered such a dramatic decline, and I suspect we’re probably paying a proportion of his hefty wages during his time at West Ham too.  Nevertheless, if it works out, we may find a buyer – he is very much in the shop window.

There’s a decent player in there.  Not a player to match RVP, or even Olivier Giroud, but a player capable of holding up the ball and providing a threat in the air.  A player who will suit West Ham down to the ground.  If he can get a game ahead of Carlton Cole or Andy Carroll, things could work out for him.  I hope they do, for everyone’s sakes.

Chamakh’s departure, as well as Gervinho’s time at the African Cup of Nations, leaves us very light upfront.  I considered a striker a priority before the window – now it’s nothing less than a necessity.  Worryingly, our options seem to be decreasing all the time: Demba Ba has joined Chelsea, Huntelaar has re-signed at Schalke, and Fernando Llorente is in talks about a Bosman move to Juve.  I’ve read the stories about David Villa, but I can’t see that one happening.  The obvious signings have all disappeared from the table.  That said, Arsene has never really been one for the obvious.  Let’s hope he’s got a trick up his sleeve.

I was irked by his comments suggesting fans demand the signing of “Messi” etc.  It’s nonsense.  Most fans simply want appropriate investment in the side.  Letting players go (Johan Djourou seems set to follow Chamakh through the exit door) only increases the need for reinforcements.

One to keep an eye on could be Thierry Henry.  When asked by Arsenal.com about the seemingly dead deal for the Frenchman, Arsene said:

“We have not gone as far with Thierry because we look more for permanent people.”

Sensible.  Positive, even.  However, Arsene went on to suggest that a couple of injuries and Thierry’s willingness could change that situation later in the month.  Given my lack of confidence about our ability to pull in alternative signings, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Henry in an Arsenal shirt in 2013.

So far in this window, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Spurs have already completed deals.  The onus is on Arsenal to show similar urgency.

Transfer Update: Ba, Adrian, Djourou & No Theo Talks

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 677 Guns

If Arsenal do sign a forward in this transfer window, it won’t be Demba Ba.  The Senegalese striker is instead on the way to Chelsea, who have moved early in the transfer window to secure Ba by meeting the £7m release clause in his contract.

I made little secret of the fact that Ba was my preferred choice to solve Arsenal’s striker problems –  I was banging on about it as early as October.  He struck me as an affordable, athletic goalscorer – exactly what we need to help Olivier Giroud during his period of adaptation.

However, as soon as Chelsea became interested it became unlikely.  On Wednesday I received a piece of information which went some way towards explaining Arsenal’s unwillingness to get involved in the transfer: there are five agents involved in the deal, each demanding a fee of £1m.  If Chelsea meet their demands, that almost doubles the cost of the signing, and means Ba’s representatives will take home as much from the deal as Newcastle themselves (£2m of the £7m buyout goes straight in to Ba’s pocket).   Add that to Ba’s £80,000 p/week pay-packet and suddenly the gamble on his Swiss cheese cartilage seems a lot more expensive.

Adrián López seems much more like an Arsene Wenger signing.  I can’t vouch for the veracity of the links with the Spanish forward, but he has all the attributes Arsene tends to look for: he’s young, quick, technically capable and extremely versatile.  He could play in any of the front three positions, which would give Wenger plenty of options and effectively replace Gervinho – during his African Nations exile and hopefully beyond.  Some reports have dubbed him “the next David Villa”, but after a difficult season this time round Arsenal fans could be forgiven for hoping for the real thing instead.

Room will have to be made in the squad, and one of the players who has been deemed dispensable is Johan Djourou.  The Swiss defender is already in talks with a Ligue 1 club about a permanent move, and when you add that to declared interest from Hannover the signs suggest he could end January anywhere but North London.

I have to say I’m sorry to see him go.  I think he’s far better than public perception would have you believe.  Don’t forget, it was a back-line of Djourou and Koscielny that played in our 2-1 victory over Barcelona at the Emirates.  At that time, almost two years ago, he looked like an Arsenal first-teamer for years to come.  Since then, however, he’s failed to get a run of games together, and it saddens me that the last memory many Gooners will have of him is of a few halting performances playing out-of-position at full-back.

Should Djourou go, I don’t necessarily expect Arsenal to sign a replacement.  Ignasi Miquel is 20 now and extremely well thought of.  This could be his opportunity to become part of the first team squad, especially with the news that Sebastien Squillaci could also be off – although I’d be staggered if he could find a club prepared to match his Arsenal wages.

Finally, you may have read yesterday that Theo Walcott was due to spend the afternoon in talks with Arsenal over a new contract.  Well, I wouldn’t expect an announcement any time soon: my information is that no such talks took place.  I’m sure there’ll be contact between Arsenal and Theo this month, but that summit has not taken place yet.

Look at that.  The window is only a few days already and we’re already up to our neck in transfer chat.  It could be a long month.  I can only guarantee you that all information I give you is in good faith, and absolutely authentic.  Follow me on Twitter @gunnerblog for transfer tidbits and window wailings.  It’s rarely fun.

Southampton 1 – 1 Arsenal: Call for the Cavalry

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 1,209 Guns

Southampton 1 – 1 Arsenal (Ramirez 35, Do Prado (og) 41)
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction 

I’ll remember this match for the 74th minute.  With Arsenal searching for someone to make the difference and allow them to nick a single goal, and with it two further points, Arsene Wenger unveiled his back-up plan.  From the substitutes bench came the men tasked with rescuing the victory for Arsenal: Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho.

I don’t want to dissect the individual contribution of those two players.  I accept they’re both flawed in different ways.  I also accept that they seem like decent pros who give their all.  I’m not, despite the obvious temptation, setting out to slate two guys whose limitations are not their own fault.  However, the inference is clear: Arsenal do not have enough quality in the squad.

We can’t complain of injuries.  The only major absentee is Abou Diaby, and that is something of a given.  Bar the knack-prone Frenchman, this is an Arsenal squad at full strength.  And when it came to the crunch, once Olivier Giroud had been thrown on to add much needed shape to the forward line, we didn’t have a decent card left to play.  In replacing Chamberlain and Cazorla with the aforementioned pair of Ramsey and Gervinho, we were actually weakening our team.

It’s a problem that’s existed at Arsenal for a few seasons now: we have a strong first XI, but the players in reserve fail to match up.  The disparity between first-team and back-up increases over time: Arsene is reluctance to use his squad members, overplaying the likes of Arteta and Cazorla, whilst the men who come up short fall out of the reckoning entirely.  Their confidence drops, and so does their sharpness.  When they are  later called upon, usually out of necessity, the gap between them and the required level seems all the greater.  Hence the abominable displays of Marouane Chamakh, the disppearance of Chu-Young Park etc.

Arsene doesn’t help himself.  When asked recently about reported interest in Demba Ba, he stated:

“He is a similar type to Giroud and you will see Giroud develop into that kind of player.”

That may be.  But that doesn’t preclude Arsenal from buying Ba too.  There is room in the squad for more than one powerful centre-forward.  That way if one is injured, out of form, or just a bit tired you have the option of changing him.  Come the end of the season, you’ve got two players who are motivated by true competition and fresher due to being afforded rest.

By way of comparison with Arsenal, Manchester United can pick a front four of Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and one Robin van Persie and still have Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, and Nani in reserve.  They can mix and match and still have enough quality to beat all but the sternest opponents.  I don’t expect Arsenal to be able to put together a stable of forwards of that quality anytime soon, but now that the transfer window is open there is no excuse for not going after some top drawer reinforcements.

The fact that we have Arteta shouldn’t prevent us chasing a defensive midfielder.  The fact that we have Cazorla shouldn’t rule out the pursuit of a schemer.  And the fact that Theo Walcott has had a handful of decent games through the middle certainly shouldn’t prohibit the signing of a striker.  Quality and competition provides flexibility.  This was an inflexible Arsenal performance.  Signings are the antidote.

Pleasingly, Arsene’s post-match comments suggest he is preparing to enter the market.  I’m also somewhat reassured by the news that Thierry Henry won’t be returning on loan: it means the manager can’t take the easy option of pouncing for a player he knows well for next to no money.  The short term sticking plaster is no longer an option.

Throwing money at a problem doesn’t always work.  In football, however, it rarely hurts.

SKREAMER COMP

Congratulations to @AdamBooth87, whose name came out of the hat and wins himself a pair of Skreamer boots.  I’ll be in touch soon to sort out your prize.

ps. Happy New Year, you lot.

Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle: Why I’m struggling to enjoy Theo’s excellence

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 1,065 Guns

Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I ought to be revelling in this victory.  Instead, it’s strangely bittersweet.

Make no mistake, this was Theo Walcott’s game.  Although his first half performance was patchy, he went on to complete a scintillating hattrick and pick up a couple of assists along the way.  This was probably his finest performance in an Arsenal shirt, and a convincing audition to be the long-term occupent of the central striking berth.

The first goal will invite comparisons with Thierry Henry, coming as it did after an intelligently bent run, matched by an equally intelligent bent shot inside the far post.  The second was a wonderful finish, clipped with little backlift past a wall of Newcastle defenders and in to the top corner.  The hattrick goal was the best of the bunch: after collecting the ball from a short free-kick on the left, Walcott scooted between two challenges, tumbled to the ground, sprung to his feet a la Stamford Bridge last year, and lifted the ball beautifully over the goalkeeper.  It was a goal worthy of a hattrick, worthy of the crowd’s acclaim, and worthy of Sunday morning’s headlines.

It was not, however, a goal worthy of a £100,000 p/week salary.  Not in the mind of Arsenal’s board, who are still locked in stalemate with Theo Walcott’s representatives.  And so, whilst I should have been lost in ecstasy over Walcott’s outstanding display, I was instead consumed with the thought that Theo Walcott might finally be about to explode in to the player he’s long threatened to be, just six months before he walks out of the club on a Bosman free.

Yesterday, there was one man who took more delight in Walcott’s performance than Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal fans, or even Theo himself: his agent.  He will have been rubbing his hands together, as his negotiating position was enormously strengthened by this hattrick display.  The pressure upon Arsenal to meet his client’s demands has never been greater.  Equally, any potential suitors’ interest will have been piqued.  Theo holds all the cards.

I’ve long insisted that if he was going to sign, he would have done so by now.  We are just two days away from Walcott being able to formally discuss a contract with a new club.  It’s hard to question his commitment on the field; equally hard to ascertain his commitment off it.

Arsenal, of course, can’t afford to freeze him out.  In the past Arsene Wenger has had a squad so replete with options that he’s been able to leave the likes of Edu and Sylvain Wiltord out of the first-team squad once it became clear their futures lay elsewhere.  Not so this season.  The competition for fourth place is so fierce, and the squad so bear that an in-form Walcott is a guaranteed starter.

The question I keep coming back to is: if he hasn’t signed thus far, why would he sign now?  He doesn’t even have the threat of being omitted from the team hanging over him.  He can continue to play games, score goals, and let the offers from other clubs roll in.  By the end of the season he’ll have deals on the table that significantly surpass the £100k he is demanding from Arsenal – never mind the £75k or so they’re currently offering.

It’s why I was so gutted when Olivier Giroud volleyed that late opportunity against the bar.  I would have loved to have seen a hattrick scored by a player I am confident will be with us beyond May.  On the subject of Giroud, his introduction saw Theo moved out to the right.  In that position he still managed to score one and assist another inside fifteen minutes.  He’s doing well in the centre, but I’ve not seen much yet that I don’t think he could do coming in off the line from a wide starting position.  His form is not depending on his position.

Regardless of where he plays, it looks like he’ll have a tremendous goalscoring season.  Arsenal will benefit in the short-term, but as long as that contract remains unsigned, each goal will be accompanied by a familiar feeling of gloom as we achingly cheer the name of a player all but certain to desert the club come the summer.  It’s a bit like Robin van Persie last year, all over again.

Before I go I ought to give some praise to Newcastle United, who were excellent up around the 70th minute, at which point they collapsed.  It’s worth remembering that whilst our players had their feet up on Boxing Day, Newcastle were playing out a draining 4-3 at Old Trafford.  It showed, and the ludicrous scoreline in yesterday’s game can be attributed to the fact they completely ran out of gas.

They have some superb players, though.  I was impressed by two young midfielders who aren’t even regular starters for them.  First off, Sylvain Marveaux continued his impressive adaptation to English football, providing one particularly sumptuous cross for their third goal.  Then there was Gael Bigirimana, a 19 year old who last season was playing for Coventry City, who moved the ball intelligently and accurately all afternoon.

As for Demba Ba, if we don’t try to sign him for £7m then it is tantamount to mismanagement.  I made a point of watching him carefully from behind the goal, and his power, movement and finishing is outstanding.  Walcott and Giroud’s goals were heartening, but we’re still in need of more attacking options, and with Premier League experience and an affordable price tag, Ba fits the bill.

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Further reading: Player Ratings for Bleacher Report

Newcastle Preview, Theo Thoughts & SKREAMER competition

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Pre-season, Match Previews, Premier League | 146 Guns

Arsenal host Newcastle United today in our final match of 2012.  It’s been an up-and-down year – more on that next week – but victory today would enable us to end it with four consecutive Premier League wins.

The team news is worryingly good.  Worrying in that anything unfamiliar is unsettling, but also because a clean bill of health might encourage Arsene to keep his cheque-book closed in January.  The return from illness of Olivier Giroud gives Arsene his major selection headache: whether or not to reintroduce the Frenchman or persist with Theo Walcott in the central striking berth.

Much of Arsene’s press conference focused on Walcott’s hypothesised evolution in to a centre-forward:

“I like the signs that I have seen.  If you look at my statements, I always said that one day he would play through the middle and it grew in his brain.

He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before. The fact that you play in other positions as well helps your technique.  On the wing you need a shorter technique against the line. Once you [then] play in the middle you can go on both sides.

From [the ages of] 19 to 23, Theo has learnt a lot. Now we will sometimes play him on the flanks and sometimes through the middle. I like what I have seen through the middle.”

I have to say I’m not convinced by this switch.  It seems odd that having resisted playing Walcott through the middle for so long, Arsene has suddenly introduced such a radical shift halfway through the season.  It looks, to me at least, like something of a desperate move, with as many as four possible motivating factors.  The first is his lack of options: Arsenal are patently lacking in quality strikers.  The second is a desire to convince Theo to sign a new deal and remain at Arsenal.  The third is to save a bit of money in January by turning Walcott in to a striker instead of bringing one in.  And the last, and arguably most worrying, is that Arsene might have been influenced by the huge consensus among the media that Walcott deserves a chance through the middle.

I don’t foresee it being a long-term solution.  Firstly, because I’m not certain that Walcott is more suited to the central role than one on the wing, but also because I don’t think Theo will be here come next season.  Arsenal still need a forward, and while Arsene insists he is preparing to be ‘busy’ in January, I am concerned he is mainly going to be busy making excuses about ‘super super quality’ and lack of value.

Today, Walcott is guaranteed to start, and my hunch is that despite all the noise from Arsene it’ll be on the wing.  Rotation is important at this time of year, and Giroud should be fairly well rested and raring to go.  Other than that, the team will surely be as we expect, with Podolski on the left flank, Cazorla joining Wilshere and Arteta in midfield, and Vermaelen and Mertesacker flanked by Gibbs and Sagna.  It’s possible that one of the centre-backs will be rested in the next couple of games, but I don’t think Arsene will take that chance today against the dangerous duo of Ba and Cisse – the former of which he has denied an interest in.  Again, a little worrying.

The fact that Arsenal had a rest of Boxing Day while Newcastle suffered a morale and energy-sapping last-minute 4-3 defeat at Old Trafford means we really have no excuses today: we ought to win.If you fancy a flutter on today’s match, then you can check out my predicted team and betting tips over at Unibet.

In other news today, I’ve got a bit of a competition for you lot.  The guys at Warrior Football have given me a pair of their new SKREAMER football boots to give away.

They’re a really lovely bit of kit.  I wore a pair myself in my final Sunday League game of 2012, and whilst the bright colours probably attracted an extra few kicks on the ankle, they feel great on the pitch.  They’re apparently packed full of scientific advances, much like the Predator was all those years ago, so fair play to Warrior for attempting to do something genuinely innovative.  You can read more about them here.

And if you fancy, you can nab yourselves a pair.  I’ll be running a competition – entry is via Twitter only, I’m afraid, so make sure you’re following me @Gunnerblog.  As we all know, a ‘Skreamer’ in football terminology is a rocket shot – a goal from distance that flies past a helpless goalkeeper.  My question is simple:

Which Arsenal player scored the most goals from outside the box last season?

Tweet me and tag your answer with #SKREAMER to go in to the hat.   You’ve got until Monday to enter.

Good luck to you, and good luck to Arsenal today.  Three points required to end 2012 on a relative high.  And three cheers for Pat Rice, who has been awarded a richly-deserved MBE.  Congratulations to him.

Wigan 0 – 1 Arsenal: Arsenal’s true leader makes it a merrier Christmas

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 684 Guns

Wigan 0 – 1 Arsenal (Arteta 60)
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Mikel Arteta has scored some incredibly important goals for Arsenal…
Last season there was the dramatic winner against Man City, and in this campaign alone he’s proved the difference against QPR, West Brom and Wigan, collecting an invaluable nine points along the way.  It’s a record that cements his status as the true leader of this Arsenal team.  Thomas Vermaelen may wear the armband, but when it comes to taking responsibility on the pitch, there is no-one more commanding than Arteta.

Bacary Sagna showed his class, again…
Midway through the first half there was a little moment when Sagna, stuck on the touchline and under pressure from two Wigan players, played a left-footed curling pass between the two onrushing players, across the field, and in to the path of Thomas Vermaelen.  That is impressive enough.  What I haven’t mentioned yet is that as he did this, Sagna was falling over.  It was an incredible show of balance, strength, athleticism and technique.  And, critically, something I’m not sure Carl Jenkinson will ever be able to do.  Bacary Sagna is one of the best right-backs in the world.  It’s essential the club do everything they can to keep him.

Oxlade-Chamberlain should be starting regularly now…
He was our most dangerous attacking threat against Wigan, but a better reason to be playing him is that he represents a huge part of the future of this club.  The other options on that right flank do not represent long-term options: Gervinho is a player whose talent seems to be on the wane; Theo Walcott still looks destined to walk away on a Bosman; and Aaron Ramsey will surely settle as a central midfielder rather than auxiliary wide-man.  The Ox needs game-time to improve, and now he’s showing signs of a return to form, there’s no reason not to give it to him.

Wojciech Szczesny made a couple of crucial saves…
…that suggest he is returning to his best.  It’s clear that being dropped by Poland during EURO 2012 affected his confidence, and the injuries he was carrying in the first half of the year also undermined him.  Now, after a prolonged rest, he looks a better and more mature ‘keeper.  His save from Arouna Kone was the difference between this being one point and three.

The table is outrageously tight…
Yesterday’s results mean that we are now level on 30 points with Everton, Tottenham, and West Brom.  Chelsea sit just one point behind, but have two games in hand.  Despite their impressive form this season, I still expect the Baggies to fall away, meaning the Champions League spots will go to two from the remaining foursome.

The fact we sit in third certainly puts a shinier perspective on things.  Three league wins in a row gives us some semblance of momentum, and our remaining fixture of the year (Newcastle at home) looks eminently winnable.  The New Year will enable us to draw a line under an uncomfortable 2012, and also hopefully under our tentative transfer policy. If Arsene’s New Year’s Resolution is to loosen the purse strings, it could make for a brighter, shinier 2013.